Kicking the Tires: Texas Longhorns

Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

K-State puts its three-game winning streak on the line in Austin. The Longhorns need a win or a promising season will be in disarray.

K-State is riding high coming into this Saturday’s game with Texas. The Wildcats have won three straight conference games. Meanwhile, the Longhorns have lost two of their last three and the only win was a two-point home escape over KU.

A month ago, that previous paragraph seemed inconceivable. K-State was 0-2 in conference play and was more or less noncompetitive against Oklahoma State and Baylor. The Longhorns, on the other hand, had just defeated West Virginia to move to 2-0 in conference play and hopes were high for the Red River Shootout.

Just a reminder. It’s a long season, and what seems unthinkable today could become reality tomorrow.

Players to Watch

K-State

Passing: Skylar Thompson, 107-177-1, 1,336 yards, 7.5 yards/attempt, 7 TDs, 167.0 yards/game

Rushing: James Gilbert, 100 carries, 558 yards, 5.6 yards/carry, 5 TDs, 79.7 yards/game

Receiving: Dalton Schoen, 25 receptions, 389 yards, 15.6 yards/reception, 3 TDs, 48.6 yards/game

Texas

Passing: Sam Ehlinger, 199-303-7, 2,378 yards, 7.8 yards/attempt, 23 TDs, 297.3 yards/game

Rushing: Keontay Ingram, 98 carries, 494 yards, 5.0 yards/carry, 4 TDs, 61.8 yards/game

Receiving: Devin Duvernay, 69 receptions, 800 yards, 11.6 yards/reception, 7 TDs, 100.0 yards/game

You should treat the “rushing” section of this as fluid, and include both QBs as threats. We’re all well aware of the damage that 6’3” and 230-lb. quarterback Sam Ehlinger can do with the ball in his hands. Skylar Thompson doesn’t exhibit the same powerful style as Ehlinger, but he has 234 rushing yards and eight rushing touchdowns in the last three weeks.

Texas should also see the return of true freshman Jordan Whittington at running back on Saturday. He doesn’t have a carry yet but, as with most Texas recruits, came to the 40 Acres with a lot of hype. K-State’s leading rushers, Gilbert and Jordon Brown are still on the mend after injuries against OU. Harry Trotter may again be asked to carry the load after 20 carries and 92 yards against KU.

Defensively, the Longhorns have been a M*A*S*H unit the last month or so, but should get some key pieces back. Defensive back Caden Sterns is somehow still third on the team in tackles despite not playing since the game against Oklahoma State more than a month ago. B.J. Foster also missed the TCU game, but should play on Saturday.

Keep an eye on the matchup between K-State center Adam Holtorf and guards Evan Curl and Tyler Mitchell against Texas nose tackle Keondre Coburn. The freshman from Houston is a svelte 6’2” and 340 lbs., and K-State will have to get some movement from him to get A-gap power going. Also look for K-State to attack the edges against Texas’ 3-3-5 defensive alignment, likely with the diamond formation we saw a few times against Oklahoma.

Advanced Stats

Pay close attention, because you’re not likely to see me say this ever again: Texas’ defense, like KU’s, is pretty bad across the board by Success Rate. K-State should be able to sustain drives against the Longhorns, though there’s a caveat there based on the level of play we see from some of Texas’ previously injured players. K-State’s offense maintains top-40 ratings across the board by Success Rate.

The key, then, will be whether K-State is able to finish in the end zone on its scoring opportunity drives, or whether they settle for field goals. This is a relative strength for both teams, with Texas ranking 33rd nationally by preventing touchdowns in the red zone, while K-State’s offense is 22nd nationally. K-State is not generally an explosive offense, but they’re not terrible (41st nationally), while Texas is among the bottom 30 teams nationally at preventing big plays.

Texas’ offense is both reasonably efficient and moderately explosive, a bad combination for the K-State defense. K-State has been no worse than average across the board by Success Rate, but their rushing Success Rate sags a bit. Meanwhile, Texas is very efficient on the ground (17th). K-State is also bad at preventing big plays, whereas Texas an upper-third team at generating them. The Wildcats desperately need to keep Duvernay and Collin Johnson in check and force Texas to drive the length of the field.

Conclusion

This game shapes up as a rockfight if K-State can prevent big plays. Both teams are pretty good by time of possession (K-State third, Texas 38th) and sport fairly efficient offenses. In a game like that, there will be a premium on finishing drives, protecting the ball, and preventing big plays, particularly on special teams. Those are all things K-State has done reasonably well of late.

But Texas also protects the ball pretty well, for the most part. Ehlinger is unlikely to have a meltdown at home like Carter Stanley did last week, even if K-State is able to generate some pressure up front. Bill Connelly’s SP+ projections see this one as pretty close to a tossup, with Texas winning. Reluctantly, I agree.

Longhorns 34, Wildcats 30

Source: Bring on the Cats